Questions and Answers - December 4
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Government—Stability and Support Partners
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the stability of his Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will he depend on Mr Banks’ vote to pass legislation for the remainder of this term?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That will depend, obviously, on whether it is either a confidence and supply issue or *case by case, as we deal with every party in Parliament. But, in principle, yes, where Mr Banks chooses to exercise that vote on behalf of the ACT Party.
Hon David Cunliffe: If it is on a case by case basis, as the Prime Minister has said, what does it say that he could not muster a majority for his copper tax or the Resource Management Act* changes, and how can the country be confident of stable Government over the next year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The fact that we have not introduced the Resource Management Act legislation does not mean that we cannot actually command a majority. The member might actually be quite surprised by that, but we will leave that, actually, for another day. In terms of the copper tax, that was never actually tested. We were aware that our partners would not vote for it and we decided not to introduce it. But, anyway, we would not have done so because after that point the retail service providers decided that they did not want to do a deal with *Chorus, so it was a moot point.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister now know for certain that the Hon Peter Dunne did not leak the *Kitteridge report?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not know the answer to that. I do not believe that was the purpose of the privileges claim.
Hon David Cunliffe: Then how could he accept him back in his Cabinet?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because, firstly, we have not done that and, secondly, we accept the member at his word.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with *Colin Craig that man may never have walked on the *moon?
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister, as far as he has responsibility.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and one of the great privileges of being Prime Minister is that you get the opportunity firsthand to have some unique experiences. One of mine was having—
Grant Robertson: You’ve been on the moon?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not been to the moon. I have not been to the moon, although I know that Labour’s economic policies are developed up there. But, no. As Prime Minister, I had
dinner with **Buzz Aldrin one night. Buzz looked pretty convinced that he had been to the moon, and he would know.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will one of his unique experiences be to have *Colin Craig land on “Planet Key”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, there are a lot of people who would like to be part of “Planet Key”, as we saw in the last election, when over a million people voted for National and—how many voted for Labour? Was it 300,000 or 400,000?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Not any more, Johnny.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, actually, our polling last night did not indicate that.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which is worse: propping up a dying Government based on the vote of a potential electoral fraudster—an ex-Minister whom he thinks may have released secret documents—or an extremist who put out 20,000 leaflets saying that he should not be the Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We deal with *MMP. That requires any political party or group of parties to get 61 votes. Come the next election, it will be the same situation. It will be no different for the Labour Party than it will be for the National Party. But what I can say, based on all the things I see, is that the probability of National being able to get those 61 seats is far greater than it is for Labour. The one difference, though, between election 2014 and election 2011 is that I will go into election 2014 with 100 percent of my caucus wanting me to get there and you, Mr Cunliffe, will go there with less than a third of your caucus wanting you to get there.
Hon David Cunliffe: In the *run-up to this election, does the Prime Minister continue to intend to hop from cloud to cloud; if so, under which cloud will he find the Hon John Banks and on which cloud will he find Colin Craig?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know, but I will find the Labour Party’s economic policies in *cloud-cuckoo-land.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister’s statement that he has to take Mr Dunne at his word *in respect of his denial mean that he believes Mr Dunne did not leak the *Kitteridge report?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member has, on numerous occasions, strongly said that he did not leak the report. I accept the member at his word. There was no conclusion to that report.
Dr Russel Norman: How legitimate does he believe his asset sales programme is, given that it was passed by a single vote in this House and that that single vote was the vote of John Banks, the discredited *MP who is currently in front of the courts for electoral fraud?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, I think it is really important that we recognise and actually respect that every New Zealander is innocent unless they are proven guilty. We, as members of this House, actually have a responsibility, I believe, to at least accept that basic principle, which we expect other New Zealanders to accept. Secondly, in a parliamentary majority in this Parliament, you are required to get 61 votes, and those 61 legitimate votes are required. We have them; that is called a majority. If Russel Norman is telling us that if one day—goodness knows if it ever happens—he is part of a Government, he would not count that as a majority, that is a really interesting proposition, which he should get to his feet and tell New Zealanders about now. The truth is that it is just typical Russel Norman—says one thing, will do something completely different. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! And that includes the member.
Dr Russel Norman: My question to the Prime Minister is in relation to his previous answer. Given that the courts have found that John Banks took a $15,000 donation from—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The difficulty I am anticipating with this question is that there is a case now that is sub judice—before the court. I am certainly not ruling that question out of order, but I am going to ask the member to rephrase it in such a way that he does not breach Standing Order *112 by referring to a case that is now potentially sub judice.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was actually quoting from the judge’s decision in the most recent judicial review that Mr Banks went to court about—exactly that case.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No. Speaking to the point—
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think that is a very reckless comment for Dr Norman to have made. There has been no finding; there has been simply a determination that it should proceed to a trial— quite a different matter. Dr Norman has I think got himself in some trouble by implying that there has been a judgment, when there has not been.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, the sub judice rule here involves whether or not Mr Banks knowingly had a declaration filled out, and that is the matter that is before the court. It is not whether he received the money. That has been accepted by his lawyer, and it was by him at court. The sub judice rule concerns his knowledge as to that declaration of return. That is a different matter, and Dr Norman has not traversed that at all.
Mr SPEAKER: Let me hear again from the member, but I would just ask him to be careful and consistent with Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings on this matter, which is quite complicated and difficult.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that John Banks received a $15,000 donation from *Skycity, does he believe that it is legitimate for him to rely on John Banks’ vote in giving Skycity concessions to massively expand its operations?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is that not going right to the heart of the case that is going to the court?
Hon Members: No, it’s not.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, well, I am sorry. There are constitutional experts and lawyers over here who might think so, but—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I accept that this is a very difficult issue, but I think the way that question is now worded is in order, and it is stating facts that are now in the public arena. The Prime Minister can answer that question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue, though, is how any donation was received, and for him to assert it was received by Mr Banks is, at this point, wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: But that was not the question that—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It was. He said: “Given that he received …”. Those words are wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The issue is how it was then described—the receipt of it. That is the issue. I do not think there is much doubt, to the best of my knowledge, that the donation was received. It is then a matter of how it was returned. I have ruled that the Prime Minister can answer the question, and that is the absolute end of the matter.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not accept the premise of the question.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that it does damage to the reputation of this House that the vote on the Skycity bill, which gave enormous concessions to Skycity, was reliant on the vote of John Banks, who received a $15,000 donation from Skycity and is currently before the courts on exactly that issue?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Once again, the member has proved that he cannot count. The majority was two, not one.
Dr Russel Norman: Did he or any of his advisers or colleagues pressure John Banks to stay on as an MP, despite the fact that he faces a trial for electoral fraud, because his Government relies on the single vote provided by that MP in this House to pass his most unpopular legislation like asset sales?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, not to the best of my knowledge.
Economy—Export Sector Performance and Government Financial Position
2. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on progress in lifting New Zealand’s export performance and reducing its reliance on borrowing from overseas lenders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I have received a number of reports confirming strong performance by New Zealand’s exporters, particularly in those areas where the Opposition was most concerned—that is, in the regions and in manufacturing. Exporters have performed well despite strong *headwinds from a high Kiwi dollar and difficult export conditions in our traditional markets. Our terms of trade rose 7.5 percent in the September quarter due to export prices rising faster than import prices. This is the highest terms of trade level since 1973, as determined by prices for our exports in world markets. The trade deficit for October was $168 million, the lowest for any October month since the mid-1990s. So prices in world markets are higher than we expected, but our exporters are performing better than was expected.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What progress is the Government making in reducing New Zealand’s external vulnerabilities, particularly in bringing down the *longstanding current account deficit?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, the Government cannot have a direct effect on the current account deficit. What we can do is try to create conditions where our exporters thrive and where imported inflation is relatively low. Last week Statistics New Zealand* issued the national accounts for the March 2013 year. They included significant upwards revisions to the estimates of spending by overseas visitors. This has had the effect of boosting our service exports and decreasing the amount that was originally attributed to the private consumption of households. As a result, our recorded level of household and national saving has increased, whereas the current account deficit for the year to March 2013 has decreased. It was estimated previously at 4.5 percent of GDP, and it has now been re-estimated at 3.9 percent of GDP. So the statisticians have discovered that we are doing more exporting and less consuming than they thought.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What steps has the Government taken to help to rebalance the economy towards more savings and exports and to veer away from excessive consumption, borrowing, and Government spending, which marked the mid-2000s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is certainly more to do to rebalance this economy. It has been difficult to have the amount of export growth we would like to see when the exchange rate has been so high. And it has been a wee bit difficult to reduce Government spending when we have had the earthquakes in Christchurch requiring us to commit up to $15 billion to rebuild Christchurch. But despite those headwinds we implemented a tax package in 2010 that favoured savings and exports over consumption and property speculation. The *Business Growth Agenda supports businesses to invest and employ, and, as a result, the tradable sector, which was in recession for several years up to 2008, has grown by 11.6 percent from its trough in the second quarter of 2009. But there is still much more work to do.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What economic approaches would halt the progress being made in supporting exports, productivity, investment, and jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have a reasonably good idea what would have a negative effect on New Zealand’s now positive growth prospects, and those are the things that affected our growth prospects badly in the mid-2000s. Three factors were pretty clear from that: an excessive rise in house prices, which doubled in about 10 years; runaway Government spending, particularly from 2005 onwards; and regulatory change that inhibited business and export investment and savings. They were the policies of the Labour Party. We want to avoid those traps this time around.
Student Achievement—OECD Report
3. HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana) to the Minister of Education: What responsibility does she accept for the New Zealand results as identified in the OECD’s PISA report released yesterday, which shows New Zealand’s test scores in maths, reading and science have all
deteriorated under her watch, and that New Zealand’s education system has failed to keep pace with the educational achievements of other countries, also under her watch?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe*, Mr Speaker. I am the Minister of Education*, and these responsibilities fall to me. These results are serious but not surprising. The Government is serious about the plan we have for fixing this. The group of *15-year-olds who were assessed last year has been in the system for about 11 years, since 2001-02. Playing the blame game* does not help them. These students were not caught by national standards*, but they will be caught by National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)* level 2 and Youth Guarantee*, where the Government has ambitious targets to make sure our children and young people are succeeding.
Hone Harawira: What responsibility does the Minister accept for the fact that the OECD recommendation talked about equity, increasing resources, and targeting disadvantaged children through additional economic assistance, including free meals in schools for students from poor families, yet her Government has chosen to ignore all of that and focus on everything else, including national standards, private education, charter schools, cuts for science advisers, attacks on the unions, criticising teacher standards and then paying them through a broken system called Novopay*, the sum result of which has been to confuse, confound, and demoralise—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question now is sufficiently long enough.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Our Government is this year investing $9.7 billion into Vote Education—the highest it has ever been. That is a 74 percent increase on early childhood education* and a 40 percent increase on schooling. We have invested $37.5 million this year in raising the quality of teaching so that, all across the system, every child will get a better education. We are investing in a data-rich environment because we do not want to guess; we want to know specifically who and where we need to be helping, and for what. So last week we announced $10.5 million into maths* and science resources, and we announced $31.5 million to invest into Building on Success*, which are the best elements of Te Pūtahitanga Mātauranga*, He Kākano*, Starpath*, and Gateway*, all of which have been proven to be successful for Māori and Pasifika. In terms of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now a very long answer to a very long question.
Dr Cam Calder: What do the Programme for International Student Assessment* 2012 results tell us about the achievement of New Zealand’s young people?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The results from the Programme for International Student Assessment 2012 confirm what we know about student achievement in New Zealand. Our highest-achieving students are comparable with the best in the world. However, the whole education system needs to be better geared to support all of our students to succeed. We continue to work to ensure we have a well-performing system, but it is not performing for all. That is why we are focused on raising achievement for five out of five learners.
Catherine Delahunty: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou e te Whare.* How is it not a failure after 5 years of her Government that New Zealand is one of the only countries in the developed world where the chances of poor kids doing well at school has actually decreased in the years that National has been in power?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: What the Programme for International Student Assessment results tell us, for those who have actually analysed them, is that of the factors that contribute to failure, there is a correlation between *underachievement and low *socio-economic status, and it amounts to 18 percent. Eighty-two percent relates to quality of teaching and leadership, relates to turning up to school every day, and relates to turning up on time. We are interested in all of those factors because it is a partnership between schools and parents in the community that will affect the results we want for all New Zealanders.
Catherine Delahunty: Why has equity in New Zealand education deteriorated, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment, since National came to power, while Australia
has managed to increase the chances of poorer kids doing well there in exactly the same time period?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Rather than get into comparisons between those particular systems— because actually that information is not accurate—what we have happening here is that we now have nearly 96 percent of all kids under 5 going to early childhood education. This is a significant increase, and addresses equity issues.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is giving a great background on early childhood education, but the question was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume her seat. The question was around the difference of equity and performance in New Zealand and Australia. The Minister addressed that straight away. She was saying that she did not agree with that information.
Hone Harawira: What responsibility does the Minister accept for saying that “New Zealand has a good track-record on the international stage, ranking 7th in the world … in reading …”, when just 4 months later, under her watch, we dropped to 13th in the world; or does she instead hold to her new view that it is not that we are doing so bad, it is just that the Chinese are doing so much better?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: If the honourable member had used the full quote from me, what I actually said was that under the previous *Programme for International Student Assessment results, New Zealand was seventh on that ranking for reading. But disaggregated by ethnicity, Māori were 34th, and *Pasifika were 44th. In every speech I gave I pointed that out, and pointed out that the challenge to us was to get excellence in the system for everyone.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Estimated Revenue
4. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Why has he revised the estimated proceeds from asset sales down to a minimum of $4.6 billion?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In the first place, it is Treasury’s estimate rather than the Government’s. As I said this morning, Treasury figures in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update* will revise the estimated range of proceeds to $4.6 billion to $5 billion, with a midpoint of $4.8 billion. The revised assumption of the share sale proceeds is based principally on the fact that *Solid Energy is clearly in no position to be sold any time soon. The proceeds will be less, mainly because one fewer company will be sold. It also takes account of the results of the share offers to date and, of course, these provide the only real market valuations that the energy companies have ever had. Those values reflect the fact that all electricity companies in New Zealand have lost value, partly because of uncertainty around the future price track for electricity, and partly because of political uncertainty generated by alternative regulatory proposals.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why has he taken so long to revise the estimated proceeds from asset sales, given that he told the public as far back as August last year that *Solid Energy was not fit for sale and he has already come in more than $1 billion short on the sales so far?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said, it is Treasury’s role to make the estimates, and it has statutory requirements that have to be met for the degree of certainty about any estimates it makes.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: How does he reconcile his statement to the Finance and Expenditure Committee today that “The Government never said it was going to maximise the value for taxpayers from the sales.” with his statement at the media *stand-up directly after his presentation at the Finance and Expenditure Committee today that “We have an obligation to protect the value of taxpayers’ investments.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Very easily; in the Finance and Expenditure Committee I was asked about the conditions under which the Government made the sales, and I made it clear, for instance, that the Government decided it would retain 51 percent of the companies when if it sold 100 percent of the companies, it would get more for them. In the stand-up I was asked about *KiwiRail in quite some detail. I made it clear that the Government’s role in respect of KiwiRail is to protect the taxpayers’ value, bearing in mind that the reason we own these assets is that hard-working New
Zealanders get to the end of the week and very generously hand us 25 percent of their pay packet. They could make good use of it. When we get it, just because it adds up to billions, it does not mean we should be irresponsible. It means we should be very, very careful with the $200 and $300 weekly payments that New Zealanders make to us.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: How can he claim the asset sales programme is a success when he will not achieve the minimum $5 billion he promised after forecasting by his own Prime Minister in 2011 that $10 billion could be raised from this, plus he failed to achieve widespread ownership and the power companies are today trading at record lows?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Opposition cannot have it both ways. If it says that the shares trading below their sale price is a failure, it certainly would say that if the shares were trading above the sale value, then that was a failure. The Opposition cannot have it both that we ripped off the investors and that we gave away the taxpayers’ assets. Both of those things cannot be true. The sales were a success. We gave out share certificates to New Zealanders, and in return for that we have $4 billion in the bank. I know it worries the Opposition that we are going to be spending that on public assets when it cannot—because it would have to borrow that money from foreign bankers, whom it seems much more interested in—and when we want to provide investment opportunities for New Zealanders.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Government still proceed with the partial asset sale of Genesis Energy* on the current timetable; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, that is our intention. If the member means that the referendum should determine that decision, I would put this proposition to him: if the Opposition believes the referendum will show overwhelming opposition to the sales, then it should take it seriously and promise to buy the assets back. Everyone knows what the Government will say. The question is whether the Opposition takes the referendum seriously. If Opposition members will not promise to buy the assets back, then they are defying the will of the New Zealand public.
Science and Technology—Initiatives
5. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What steps is the Government taking to improve the understanding, skills and adoption of science and technology in New Zealand society?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): The Government’s view is that science is vital for New Zealand’s future. We have, of course, increased total funding for science, innovation, and research across the Government to $1.36 billion. Along the way, we have established Callaghan Innovation*, committed $278 million just this year for 51 new projects in science investment, and committed just under half a billion dollars for 10 National Science Challenges*. The National Science Challenges panel recommended a further special challenge to improve New Zealand’s understanding and appreciation of science, and last week the Minister of Education* and I announced the Science and Society** project to lift achievement in maths and science, plus science literacy, across New Zealand.
Simon O’Connor: What steps is the Government taking to lift achievement by young people in maths and science?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As the latest Programme for International Student Assessment* results demonstrate, it is critical that we keep improving the understanding of science and technology in this country, and improve young New Zealanders’ skills in this area. New Zealand needs more young people with science, technology, engineering, and maths skills in our workforce to help us be internationally competitive and to meet our future labour market needs. As part of the first phase of the Science and Society project, last week Minister Parata and I announced that the Government has committed $10.5 million in additional funding for schools to raise student achievement in maths and science. Also, more than half a million dollars is going into the development of more than 60 science learning resources.
Simon O’Connor: What are the objectives of the Science and Society project?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Science and Society project is a unique venture between the science sector and the education sector to lift achievement in science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects, and also raise New Zealanders’ science literacy more generally. [Interruption] Of course, there are some people we cannot help, and they are on the other side of the House. Aside from improving young New Zealanders’ science skills, we also need to improve science literacy right across the population. A 2010 ACNielsen* survey showed that although public trust in science and support for science funding is healthy, a lot of people have a low appreciation of the benefits of science, and the Science and Society project will coordinate efforts across Government to lift our literacy. The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor*, Sir Peter Gluckman*, will chair the reference group of experts to advise officials and Ministers.
6. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What improvements in health services are shown in the latest health targets results?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The latest health targets results have recently been published and they show continuing improvement, with record numbers of patients benefiting from surgery and 91 percent of 8-month-olds immunised. These improvements in getting elective surgery mean that over the last 5 years on average 8,000 more patients a year have been treated. These latest results also show that 93 percent of emergency department patients were seen, treated, or discharged within 6 hours. This is the best winter emergency department result since the targets began. These better health services are the result of the hard work of our health professionals, helped by the average extra $500 million a year this Government has invested into our public health service.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What reports has he received on emergency department patients benefiting from information technology advances?
Hon TONY RYALL: There are some exciting *information technology advances that are improving emergency department clinicians’ ability to provide better patient care. In the *Wairarapa District Health Board, the *Waikato District Health Board, and the *Canterbury District Health Board, with the patient’s permission, emergency department clinicians are able to access a summary of the patient’s *primary-care information held by their general practitioner. This includes the medicines they are on, their *lab results, and any other problems the patient may have. This technology gives the emergency department clinicians the opportunity to act much more quickly, knowing they have *up-to-date data they can trust and, more important, the patient does not have to tell their story umpteen times to every clinician they meet.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, and if there are such positive results by district health boards in meeting his health targets, why has he dumped the chair of the Canterbury District Health Board, Mr *Bruce Matheson, whom people in the district thought was doing an excellent job, and is it because the relationship with him has been tested by Mr Matheson’s strong advocacy for the people and services in Canterbury?
Hon TONY RYALL: No.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a document from the Canterbury District Health Board, from board papers, public excluded, which states the relationship with Wellington has been tested—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been well described. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Welfare Fraud—Information Sharing Between Agencies
7. Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister for Social
Development: How is the enhanced information sharing between the Ministry of Social
Development and Inland Revenue delivering on the Government’s promise to crack down on welfare fraud?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister for Social Development): Our enhanced information-sharing* between the Inland Revenue Department and the *Ministry of Social Development is working well. Since it began in March this year, the ministry has identified and put a stop to more than 5,300 benefits that people were not entitled to, and corrected another 3,000 who were not receiving correct support. Those 5,300 were costing the taxpayer a bare minimum of $56 million per year. Although it is great to see these people getting back into work, they should not have been taking money they were no longer entitled to.
Hon Phil Heatley: How does this enhanced information-sharing fit with other new measures the Government has introduced to prevent, detect, and punish welfare fraud?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The key aim of the package of reforms that this Government introduced earlier this year is to stop welfare fraud as soon as possible. I am pleased with the results of our information sharing, as it is allowing us to catch fraud we might otherwise have missed and stop illegitimate benefits early, before the debt really mounts up. This perfectly complements other preventive measures such as streamlined investigation processes, greater scrutiny of beneficiaries who have previously ripped us off, and providing follow-up support to new *sole parent support beneficiaries.
Hon Phil Heatley: What is the intention behind trialling home visits to check in with new beneficiaries receiving *sole parent support?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: We recognise that for those receiving a benefit dependent on their relationship status, navigating the benefit rules can be challenging. *Although most do it successfully those who do not end up taking money that they are not entitled to and can be left with a massive debt and a fraud conviction at the end of the process. The intention behind trialling a number of methods of contact, including offering to meet at their home, is to look at the best way to keep in touch with sole parent beneficiaries at a time when we know that their circumstances frequently change at 14 weeks to 16 weeks after starting to receive the benefit. There is no sinister intent. This should be a check-in and not a checking-up.
Student Achievement—Impact of Government Priorities
8. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that the Government’s educational priorities are leading to an improvement in student achievement; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes, although we constantly strive to do better. Why? Because the data speaks for itself: the highest-ever *early childhood education participation rate, at 95.8 percent; national standards show an overall improvement, with nearly three-quarters of our students, on average, above or at national standards; last year we had the highest-ever number of school leavers achieving the *National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2, at 74 percent of school leavers; and exemptions have fallen from over 4,000 under the Labour Government to just 300 under this Government. Furthermore, *Andreas Schleicher, who is a special adviser on education policy at the *OECD and responsible for *Programme for International Student Assessment, noted in an email to me late last week that many of the school policies that New Zealand is now pursuing are very much in line with the conclusions in the OECD international report **PISA 2012 Results: What Makes Schools Successful?.
Chris Hipkins: Why did the Government cut funding for school science and technology advisers, and does she now accept in light of our recent plunge on the OECD rankings from 13th to 23rd in science that that was a mistake?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have introduced a number of student achievement function advisers because we are interested in raising achievement for all. We have focused on maths and science through those particular experts.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Answer the question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have also introduced the **Learning and Change Networks, which focus on issues like that, and last week we invested $10.5 million into science and maths resources—having answered the question.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need the question repeated. I am going to ask the member to repeat the question, but, to be fair to the Minister, it was very difficult to hear the question as it was delivered, which may have been part of the challenge the Minister faced.
Chris Hipkins: I am happy to speak louder, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No. What would be helpful would be just to get the cooperation of the member’s own colleagues as the question is asked.
Chris Hipkins: Why did the Government cut the funding for school science and technology advisers, and does she now accept in light of our recent plunge on the OECD rankings from 13th to 23rd in science that that was a mistake?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because we decided to put that funding into student achievement advisers who would work across the entire curriculum, including in maths, science, and technology. We also decided that we would target resources to those who need it the most. We also decided to invest in research that told us, for instance, that 40 percent of teachers do not feel confident to teach science and maths, so we are investing to make sure that they do have that confidence and will raise their teaching practice.
Chris Hipkins: Why did the Government cut $35 million from teacher professional development in its first Budget in 2009, and in light of her statement yesterday that New Zealand’s decline in *OECD rankings was partly due to “under-investment in raising teaching practice” will she now admit that that was a mistake as well?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Under this Government we are investing, on average, $70 million a year in professional learning and development—$70 million a year. We have also taken heed of what the sector wanted, which was to have more of it distributed out in the regions. However, in listening to the profession and hearing that it still does not think that it is quite right, I announced this week that we would review professional learning and development, and are involving all of the organisations that have an interest in it, because the profession, which we listened to, has asked for it.
Paul Foster-Bell: How does New Zealand compare with other countries participating in the *Programme for International Student Assessment?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: New Zealand remains above the OECD average. The highestachieving students in New Zealand are comparable with the best in the world. I am sure all of us in this House are pleased about that, but there is no doubt that we are now facing an achievement challenge. Fortunately, this Government has been working to a plan to address this. The other countries that we benchmark ourselves against, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, have, to varying degrees, declined—[Interruption] I am sure that the Opposition members are interested, going by their response. Those countries have declined while the performance of education systems in Asia—Shanghai, China; Hong Kong, China; Singapore, for example—continues to rise. This is both a national and global challenge that we can and must rise to, and that is why our Government and I, as Minister of Education, are focused on raising achievement for every one of our children.
Chris Hipkins: Why does she continue to attribute our drop in the OECD rankings to the rise of Asian countries, when New Zealand has been overtaken by other countries, among them, *Liechtenstein, *Estonia, Poland, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Australia, *Slovenia,
Denmark—or perhaps we should focus a little bit more on delivering a broad and balanced curriculum that might include things like geography?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because, regrettably, this is a complex issue. Unfortunately for the member, linear, single correlations do not actually work here. What the Programme for International Student Assessment data tells us is that there are a range of challenges, and we have a plan focusing on each and every one of them.
Chris Hipkins: How much money has been spent on the implementation of national standards in primary and intermediate schools, and how does that compare with the amount the Ministry of Education spends on teacher professional development in reading, writing, maths, and science?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not have to hand the precise figure about the development and implementation of national standards. I do not have that precise figure to hand, but what I can tell you is that we invest $304 million over 4 years in the professional learning and development of teachers.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table in the House a map showing Europe is not in Asia.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Most members have no trouble, Mr Mallard, in finding a map to have a look at where countries are.
New Zealand Defence Force—Joint Amphibious Task Force
9. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Defence: How have recent New Zealand Defence Force exercises contributed toward the Government’s goal of developing a Joint Amphibious Task Force?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence): The *New Zealand Defence Force recently completed **Exercise Southern Katipō, one of the largest military exercises ever conducted—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just need to stop the family chatter that is occurring between both sides of the House. Could the Minister please start his answer again?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The New Zealand Defence Force recently completed Exercise Southern Katipō, one of the largest military exercises ever conducted in New Zealand. This involved 2,200 military personnel from 10 countries. The exercise tested the New Zealand Defence Force’s ability to mount a medium-scale amphibious operation involving maritime, land, and air assets. I am pleased to advise the House that the exercise demonstrated that the New Zealand Defence Force has made great progress in building amphibious capability, and remains on track to have a fully operational joint amphibious task force by 2015.
Jacqui Dean: What is the value to New Zealand in the *New Zealand Defence Force developing a joint amphibious *task force?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The *Defence White Paper 2010 placed a greater focus on security within our own region. Accordingly, the *Defence Force turned its focus towards developing the capability to deliver humanitarian assistance and respond to security situations in the *South-west Pacific. The ability to deploy land forces across large stretches of ocean, by sea or by air, and sustain those forces once there, is therefore crucial to the New Zealand Defence Force.
Jacqui Dean: What capability upgrades has the Government invested in, to help deliver the joint amphibious task force?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Recognising that amphibious operations would require strength and capabilities, the Government has committed to a number of capability purchases, including a new fleet of medium and heavy operational vehicles capable of being deployed in medium and high threat environments, and an increased number of upgraded *Seasprite helicopters with a range of upgraded avionics, communications, radars, weapons, and other systems *on board that are superior to the existing fleet.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Estimated Revenue
10. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Has he been advised whether the Prime Minister stands by his statement on asset sales that “mixed ownership will free up $5 billion to $7 billion”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I just checked with the Prime Minister and he does stand by his statement. He also advises me that he stands by the statement that if the Greens are really opposed to the asset sales policy, then after the referendum they will promise to borrow billions of dollars and buy back the shares. So far, they have refused, which, the Prime Minister advises me, means the Greens do not really mean what they say.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that the asset sales programme has legitimacy, given that it was passed in this House by a single vote, that of John Banks, a man who received a $15,000 donation from *Skycity, of which **Justice Heath yesterday said that “Those donations were not expressly disclosed in [John Banks’] Return. Rather, they appear to have been classified as having been made anonymously.”?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have now got into the difficulty again of where we were, where the member is now starting to refer to details of the case. I will invite the member to ask the question again in line with Standing Order 112*.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a case that is from yesterday. I am reading the judgment. I am not doing anything other than reading the judgment from Justice Heath yesterday. It is a settled case. John Banks is going to trial.
Mr SPEAKER: I will invite the member to repeat the question. If I am dissatisfied with it this time, I will rule it out of order.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that the asset sales programme has legitimacy, given that the deciding vote was that of John Banks in this House, and that Mr John Banks has been found by the courts yesterday to have received two donations from a company associated with *Kim Dotcom and one from *Skycity Entertainment Group, and “Those donations were not expressly disclosed in the Return. Rather, they appear to have been classified as having been made anonymously.”, as referred to in the judgment by Justice Heath yesterday?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. Parliament passed the legislation. The *Supreme Court examined the whole process. The *Financial Markets Authority examined the whole process. A whole lot of interested investors bid on the shares and legally received their share certificates, and we now have $4 billion in the bank—$4 billion we do not have to borrow off foreign bankers in the way that that member will need to if he decides to buy back the assets.
Dr Russel Norman: Why did Treasury advise the Government in the *Budget Policy Statement that asset sales would increase the Government’s deficit, as measured by the operating balance excluding gains and losses, which is the standard measure of the deficit?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think, as we have discussed in the House before, there are a number of ways of measuring the impact of asset sales on the Government’s fiscal balance. The calculations that have been done under one version show it is mildly positive, another version mildly negative, and a third version roughly neutral. As I explained to the member this morning at the committee, the impact directly on the Government’s balance was not the main driver of the sales. The Government set out subjectives for this process some time ago. The real question now is, though, if the referendum votes a majority against the asset sales, will the Greens and Labour take the referendum seriously and promise to buy the assets back?
Dr Russel Norman: Has he actually read the *Budget Policy Statement where *Treasury says that the asset sales programme will increase the Government’s deficit, and will that increase in the deficit not now be larger, because he has raised less money than originally projected?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member’s question points to the problem with those calculations, and that is they are all hypothetical. For instance, if the Government still owned those assets, the fact is we now know they would be worth considerably less today than what is on the
Government’s books. Treasury actually has not done that calculation. It is actually pretty meaningless. The most important issue is that the Government’s debt is at least $4 billion lower than it otherwise would be, but if the Greens can get around to promising to buy the assets back— which you would think they would, judging from their criticism of the sales process—then they will have to go and raise at least $4 billion of debt to buy them back.
11. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied with her own performance as Minister of Education; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. Having said that, I will not be satisfied until we raise achievement for five out of five of our children.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can she be satisfied with her performance when *Learning Media has gone under and, after the Government changed the contract rules, left millions of dollars of unpaid debt owing?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is not so. We have worked significantly with that company over a long period of time and, regrettably, it was unable to be successful. My focus as the Minister of Education has to be to ensure that the *New Zealand School Journal and the Māori-medium resources that Learning Media has developed over time are transferred to equally capable—in fact, more capable—providers than it had become.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister not understand that this is a matter of integrity and honesty when dealing with elderly people in particular; and why did the Government buy four lots of shares in Learning Media after she had announced on 4 September at the wind-down that four lots of shares were issued to the Government to enable Learning Media to pay off a debt of over $4 million to Westpac, a foreign owned bank, and yet it left all the other creditors high and dry? Where is the integrity in that?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is not correct, and we have worked legally, appropriately, and prudently through this process.
Alfred Ngaro: Does the Minister have a plan to raise student achievement across the board?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes. Since I became the Minister of Education, I have been relentlessly focused on how we fix every part of education, from early childhood, to primary, to secondary, to senior secondary, and to the secondary-tertiary interface, because we want every young New Zealander to get a better education. This Government has been investing in and delivering on a plan to better engage with parents, to report on achievement data, to value and strengthen the teaching profession, and to support 21st century learning environments. We must continue to build on our successes, investing in quality teaching and education leadership to raise achievement for five out of five of our children.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is not correct: that after 4 September—the announcement made then, of course, was by that Minister and Mr English as the shareholding Ministers—the Government then arranged four separate loan issues by way of shares to a defunct, declining company to pay *Westpac over $4 million in debt and left the other creditors like **Anaro Investments, with a number of old people with their life savings, high and dry? What is not correct about that?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have not paid off all of Westpac’s debt.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What action will she now take to make sure that those elderly investors, who were, after all, the landlord in this case, are paid not a lousy $300,000 but the $1.3 million they are owed by way of money on the outstanding lease; and when will she ensure that the financial arrangements entered into by a company she owned are honoured?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is a commercial matter that is being worked through.
12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I do. I stated that we needed to free up land supply, particularly in Auckland, and we have passed and are now implementing the special housing legislation. I stated that we needed to reform social housing and we have passed that bill and supported the bill with a record number of community social houses. I stated that we needed to expand our help for *first-home buyers and we have doubled the number of *KiwiSaver first home deposits and trebled the number of *Welcome Home Loans. I stated that we needed to get our own houses in order and we have, this year, delivered on our commitment to insulate every single State house. I stated that we needed to rein in housing development costs and, yesterday, we passed the first reading of our bill to do just that. I could go on and on.
Mr SPEAKER: No, you cannot.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his ambition to make the dream of *homeownership a reality for more New Zealanders, given that census data shows a 2 percent reduction in homeownership, largely on his Government’s watch; first-home buyers have disappeared from the market because of *loan-to-value ratios; the average house price in Auckland has gone up by $180,000 since 2008; and mortgage repayments on an average Auckland house—assuming a 10 percent deposit and a 25- year mortgage—have gone up by $430 a month since 2008?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The data from the census released by *Statistics New Zealand shows that homeownership levels in New Zealand have been in decline consistently since 1987, and that is why the Government is making major policy changes. But if you look at the history of homeownership in New Zealand, the single most important factor for New Zealanders being able to afford their own home is interest rates, and they are at their lowest level in 50 years and are half what they were when Labour was last in Government.
Phil Twyford: Has he sought advice on the likely further reduction in homeownership, given that the Reserve Bank is predicting interest rates of 8 percent next year, and does he realise that 8 percent interest rates—assuming a 10 percent deposit and a 25-year mortgage—would increase mortgage repayments on an average Auckland house by $850 a month?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I can assure that member that this Government is very focused on keeping interest rates low for longer. That is exactly why the Reserve Bank has introduced the loanto- value ratio mechanisms, which members opposite have vigorously opposed. The biggest threats to interest rates are the very policies that he and his Green mates are advocating.
Melissa Lee: What advice has the Minister received on housing affordability over the past decade?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The *Home Affordability Report, the Massey University* index that compares average house prices, incomes, and interest rates, shows that they deteriorated by 57 percent between 2003 and 2008. In fact, according to Massey University, housing affordability was at its worst in 2008 when compared with any other time in New Zealand history. That same index shows that housing affordability has improved in every year since 2008.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement that housing supply is the core of the challenge now that the latest building consent data shows that seasonally adjusted building consents have gone down by 2.3 percent since the introduction of loan-to-value ratios—that is, from 1,625 in September to 1,588 in October—and will he heed the warnings of the *Registered Master Builders Federation that loan-to-value ratios threaten thousands of new builds every year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The biggest threats to first-home buyers are high interest rates and house prices going up like they did between 2003 and 2008. Unlike members on that side of the House, we on this side of the House respect the independence of the Reserve Bank, because that is the best long-term way to ensure financial stability.
Melissa Lee: What advice has the Minister received on home building consent numbers and increased activity in the construction sector?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am advised that the number of building consents issued in the last quarter was the highest in 5 years. We are building 4,000 more homes per year than we were a year ago and building a lot more houses than we were building in the last quarter of 2008. Last week the GDP* figures came out and what they showed was the *biggest ever—the biggest ever—increase in residential house building. That shows that this Government’s supply policies are working.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table a document showing the Minister that there was an earthquake in Christchurch.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member to use a bit of sense before he raises a point of order.
Phil Twyford: Why does he think that the Prime Minister told journalists that he was tracking Auckland building consents week by week and that they were going up, and has he advised the Prime Minister that, in fact, Auckland building consents have gone down by 24 percent since May and have decreased every month for the last 4 months?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Oh, the member is making his numbers up. The number of building consents in Auckland is 25 percent higher than it was a year ago. It has been consistently growing quarter by quarter and, as we have seen with the special housing areas legislation, already we have freed up another 5,000 sections. Before Christmas we will be doing at least that number again. My question to members opposite is, why have they opposed every single measure, such as the special housing areas legislation, that will actually enable Auckland to build more houses?
Phil Twyford: I seek leave to table the report from Statistics New Zealand on building consents—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Statistics New Zealand information is very freely available to all members.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although* accepting your ruling, I just say that, as I understand it, you did rule a couple of weeks ago that where a member calls another member’s word into question—and the Minister did say that the member was making it up—even though a document was public, it could be tabled under those circumstances in order to substantiate the member’s point.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and on occasions that would be useful for the House when the information is not freely available. In this case, the member asked a question with a political loading. The Minister is at liberty to dispute those figures, and that is exactly what the Minister did.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I seek leave to table a report that I have just received from the *Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the number of building consents issued, showing—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just clarify. Is this a document and information that is freely available?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, it is not. It has become available to me, as Minister, in only the last 2 days.
Mr SPEAKER: I will, therefore, put the leave for that information to be tabled. Is there any objection? There is objection.